I work at a large, multinational corporation in the US. Other clarifying details will follow my question.

At my workplace, we have an office, upstairs, a lab downstairs, and a data center contained in the lab itself, as a separate room. Today, a woman (Alice) I work with was taken off a project she was working on with our singular female intern (Babs), cabling some new equipment. A male coworker (Clark) was tasked to replace her. When Alice walked out of the data center, she announced to the room at large, 5 or 6 males including myself, that she was being put on another project, and asked us to listen for yelling from the data center, and that we keep an eye on Clark working with Babs. Because she then came to collect her things that she had left to me, I remarked that I thought Babs was doing fine and could "take care of herself." Alice then told me that she didn't want Clark "taking advantage of any of the interns." This gave me pause for a number of reasons:

  1. I don't particularly like Clark, he told me outright "I'm a douche bag" today, but I never regarded him as dangerous.
  2. Being a man myself, I don't see the workplace as particularly sexist or giving reason for worry.
  3. I do worry a bit now that Alice herself, or other female colleagues may feel uneasy at work when not working with another woman. I am unsure if there is something I could or should do.
  4. This seems vaguely sexist, though I am unsure on who's part

My two part question: am I reading too much into this, or not enough? In either case, is there an appropriate course of action?

Clarifying Details

  1. I am 23 years old, I've worked at this company a little over a year and greatly enjoy it
  2. Alice is ~35, has been at the company a while, but is new (less than two months) to her and Babs' team
  3. Babs is perhaps two or three years younger than me, an intern who has been with us roughly two months, and will be here through January
  4. Clark is roughly my age, and generally unliked; he is constantly strutting his "lab manager" status around the lab, even though he has worked with us less than 3 months, and is almost assuredly on a lower pay grade
  5. Babs does not seem openly uncomfortable around the office, goes out at night and on weekends with a number of other interns I am good friends with, and was working on her team before Alice
  6. I took no action, other than to IM my intern who was also working in the data center and ask if Clark was "being annoying" he replied "no more than usual"
  • 4
    @Nat I inferred Alice meant more along the lines of listen for Clark yelling at Babs or giving her a hard time. The data center is separated from the lab by a set of doors, but you could carry on a loud conversation through them if you needed to. Again, Babs and Clark were not alone in the data center after Clark left. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 3:04
  • So, you don't really see there as being a problem with Clark, and you're a bit confused about how to react to Alice's assertion that there was cause for concern?
    – Nat
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 3:08
  • @Nat I suppose that's the essence of my question, yes. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 3:11
  • 4
    I read "asked us to listen for yelling from the data center, and that we keep an eye on Clark working with Babs" and particularly "taking advantage of any of the interns" as Alice implying that Bob could (sexually) harass them, but am I reading too much into that? Was Alice just referring to the usual problematic behaviour and lack of collegiality that Bob displays? In other words, is she calling him a douchebag which everyone including Bob agrees on, or is she accusing him of being sexist?
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 13:32
  • 1
    @Lilienthal this is a large part of my question. I'm hesitant to approach Carl because I don't want to spread rumors, Alice because I don't want to aggravate the issue, and Babs because I don't want to come off as assuming she couldn't handle herself, or begin spreading rumors or creating questions like Alice. I also don't want to go to HR or someone who may have to act on any report I make in the case there is nothing going on here. Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 15:21

6 Answers 6


For all you know, Alice just warned that Clark yells at interns and you guys should watch out for that. It does sound weird and not-funny the way she announced, but she could have meant as a joke as well.

My two part question: am I reading too much into this, or not enough?

At this point, I think you are reading little more than there is to it but I understand your concern.

is there an appropriate course of action?

I think speak to Alice in person and ask her to clarify what she meant, especially 'taking advantage' part. Tell her that you are worried if there is a safety issue you need to be aware of. If there was none, then you can also hint that it was not right of her to tarnish Clark this way in front of everyone. If she is really hinting a harassment concern, then you need to ask her to raise it immediately to HR/OMBUDS/Manager.

Either ways, your next steps would just depend on what Alice has to say.

  • 1
    I would also speak to Babs in person. Maybe the two of them talked while they were together in the datacenter. Maybe Babs is actually the one feeling uneasy.
    – skymningen
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 6:22
  • 32
    An accusation of this kind is a very big deal and needs to go to HR either way. If Clark is guilty then he needs to be dealt with accordingly. But if he is innocent then he is the victim of a potentially career-destroying malicious rumour and Alice is a bully
    – Gaius
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 12:31
  • I agree there isn't anything to do without talking to Alice, but I don't want to start something by her assuming I'm asking questions because I, myself am concerned, or suggest that I think Clark needs to be watched and interpreted her request with that in mind. Is there a neutral way to approach Alice? Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 15:23
  • 1
    I do not think by asking her it means that you think Clark needs to be watched but it absolutely means that you are concerned which you are and you should express it. Why you do not want Alice to assume you are concerned ?
    – PagMax
    Commented Jul 13, 2017 at 15:57
  • Talk to both Babs and Alice first. Let Babs know you want to understand if there is any situation, and can provide support if needed. Perhaps check in with her for a few weeks to see how it's going.
    – Thomas W
    Commented Jun 22, 2020 at 1:16

Firstly, let me say that there is no clear evidence in your post that what Alice said is even gender related, let alone sexist. It could be that Alice would have given a similar warning if it was a male intern. Without questioning Alice further, you cannot be certain whether her comment was in any way gender related.

The only way to know what Alice's comment meant is to question her further. Does she know something you don't? There are a number of potential reasons why Alice could have reacted in the way she did.

She is frustrated about being taken off the project and is blowing off steam

In this case, there is no need to worry about Babs welfare more or less than you would of if she hadn't said anything in the first place.

She is concerned about Babs welfare in a general, non gender related sense

If this case you would need to find out if there is any particular reason why she thinks that an intern may be taken advantage of by Clark. If it is just based on the same observations as you have made of his personality and behaviour, then you can make your own decision as to whether there is any danger for Babs. Just ask her if she feels comfortable with the situation, the same as you would for a male intern.

She is concerned about Babs welfare in a sense that she could be in danger of harassment of a sexual nature.

This is a serious accusation which should be investigated further. It is wrong to assume Clark is a predator just because he has an abrasive personality or people have a personal dislike for him. On the other hand, if she has some knowledge and valid reason to believe that he may be a danger, she should share that information with the team.

I don't think you are obligated to do anything here, especially if you're not in a management position. But if you want to do something, talk to Alice and try and find out why she said what she said.


The way Alice handled this was certainly wrong. It amounts to an accusation against Clark. He has every right to complain to HR about it and likely should. If he does, then please be fair to him and tell the truth about what happened even if you don't particularly like Clark.

However, knowing that she may have information about Clark's behavior that you don't (She may even have made a complaint to HR previously, you would have no way of knowing that), I do not think it would be inappropriate to at least pay some attention to what is happening in the other room.

Women are assaulted and sexually harassed in the workplace more often than you likely think (it is estimated that 75% don't report it for fear of harming their own career, a fear unfortunately that is justified), it can't hurt to keep an eye out for that even being aware that Clark is likely innocent of the accusation. Do not change your option of Clark without evidence that something did happen, but any woman working in an isolated space can be in danger, it can't hurt to pay attention.


Most people understand that raising your voice at people in a workplace is unacceptable. It demonstrates a lack of respect and self-control, and is a red flag for harassment and bullying. You don't know why Alice felt the need to make this announcement, but more importantly, you don't know if Alice has been on the receiving and of Clarks attentions, but felt unable to report it, reported it and been ignored, or (all too common) both.

There's no need to go all white knight, but observing reportable misconduct should result in a report, even if it is done anonymously, and that's even more important if 'yelling' is actually code for something even more serious, such as harassment, bullying, or sexual harassment.

Look at what your Employee handbook has to say on these issues, and if there is no mechanism to report issues anonymously, take HR to task on that. Don't act on hearsay, but if you see something, say something.

Ultimately, as Maya Angelou says,

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.


Alice acted unprofessionally and what she said could be considered a sexist remark against Clark.

She has implicitly implied in front of the team that it is unsafe for female interns to work alone with Clark, that he represents a danger to them, If I was Clark I would be very unhappy about that and probably speak to HR about it because it basically amounts to creating a hostile workplace for him.

If anyone is uncomfortable working with someone else specifically because of their gender then that is their problem that they have to deal with.

  • 8
    A sexist remark would be something like "all women think X" or "all men do Y", i.e. a negative generalization about an entire gender. There is no generalization here but a specific claim about Clark - not all men, just Clark. It may or may not be an accurate claim, and if it is an honestly-held claim then there are better ways to raise it (while if it's not honestly-held it should not be raised at all), but it is not "sexist". Commented May 9, 2019 at 10:14

You are not a security guard! I understand that Babs may be in an uncomfortable situation, but you are not being paid to solve it, you are being paid to do your job.

Anyway, if you hear some yelling, what are you going to do? Break in and punch Clark in the face? Yelling at people and being an asshole are not crimes.

Also, overprotecting Babs will be bad for her, as she will at some point have to learn how to deal with a "suboptimal" work environment. The younger she assumes that, the less painful it will be.

As a final point, I am pretty sure Babs is perfectly capable of defending herself or leaving if necessary.

NOTE: I think it's pretty clear from the above stated, but since comments have proven otherwise: I am NOT assuming Clark is a rapist. Indeed, sexual assault/harassement is not mentiond a single time. If I were thiking of that, then I would be preeching for intervention, not for staying away because I don't consider myself a disgusting human being.

  • 2
    Downvoted for assuming Clark is a rapist.
    – Jack
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 11:39
  • 3
    @David No need to feel sorry for me. I rather appreciate working with people who don't feel the need to shout at one another, and as a manager I've never felt the need to shout at my staff.
    – G_B
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 0:58
  • 1
    Not needing to do something and being going to prison for doing something are two different things
    – David
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 7:05
  • 1
    @David Who said anything about going to prison?
    – G_B
    Commented Jul 15, 2019 at 2:51
  • 4
    Downvoted, because David will at some point have to learn how to deal with a "suboptimal" discussion environment, and this is as good point as any.
    – ojs
    Commented Mar 24, 2022 at 12:11

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